Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Moment of Silence

STATUS: It’s noon so I don’t have one yet.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? Nothing at the moment

In honor of literary agent Ralph Vicinanza.

I did not know Ralph personally but he’s been a force in SF&F for so long, I just wanted to take a moment to recognize that. I was very sorry to hear the news that he passed away over the weekend.

There aren’t a lot of agents doing SF&F, and this is a big loss for the genre.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

When It’s Not Hot, Passion Can Carry It

STATUS: Why does the phone ring only after I’ve stepped out of the office?

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? YOU SANG TO ME by Marc Anthony

Clarification: Adult SF is currently not hot. YA SF is doing just fine. Sorry about the confusion!

This week I went on submission with an adult SF novel. Ask any editor and they will tell you, adult SF is not hot. Fantasy is hot—particularly urban fantasy. I’m sure this comes as no surprise to blog readers if you track PW or NYT bestseller lists.

It’s not like I’m revealing some deep and hidden secret here.

And here’s where my passion for the project means everything. If I were smart, I wouldn’t take on an SF novel from a debut writer. Even if I do sell it, the money I’ll earn from it will barely pay the agency’s electric bill for three months.

Plain and simple. That’s the reality.

But I love SF. Grew up reading it. In my mind, some of the most important novels published in the last 20 years have been in this field so I did it anyway. Because I felt a passion for the story that I didn’t feel for the YA project I decided to pass on earlier this week (and will probably sell for more money than this SF novel will).

That’s the only way I can be in the game. I know writers hate hearing that agents or editors need to feel “the love” but folks, selling novels is not an easy biz. (Which, by the way, is why most agents don’t specialize in fiction but instead focus on nonfiction to build lucrative client lists).

We also want to take on authors for their whole careers. If we agents can connect with their writing at the passionate, visceral level, then chances are good we are a good fit for future work to come.

Last year I took on a YA author for a historical novel that I could not sell (and I still think editors were crazy not to buy it). But the writing… I still can read that unsold novel and fall in love with the author’s talent all over again. So we pushed on and got going on the next work. And it was that next project that sold. At auction.

Passion was the key—for me and for that author. And if I can’t sell this SF debut, then I already believe in the next work.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Even When Hot Might Not Be Right For Us

STATUS: It wasn’t a manic Monday. Huh, how strange.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? BLACKNAIL by Tim Davies Big Band

About a week or so ago, we asked for sample pages from a query we had received. Then on Friday, the writer sent us an email letting us know that an editor had offered for this YA project and that the writer also had several offers of representation. The author would like to decide on Monday but we could have the weekend to give the novel a read.

Professionally handled. Courteously done for all parties involved. I just want to take a moment to thank the writer for that! Always appreciate given time to read. (side note: interestingly, we weren’t even behind on reading. I had read the partial the night before and was planning to request the full so good timing all around.)

Both Sara and I gave it a look. And we passed on offering representation despite all the obvious excitement around the project.

Should be a slam dunk for ALL agents to throw their hats in the ring, yes?

So why not? Do I think the manuscript will sell? Probably.

I didn’t go for it for one simple reason: I didn’t feel passionate about the manuscript. I could see what was generating the excitement but it wasn’t right for me.

I know I’ve mentioned this before on my blog--that agents don’t just take on projects that they think will sell or be saleable—but I think it’s always worth repeating.

It really does come down to the right person and the right fit.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Publishing Is Where The Boys Are Not

STATUS: Off to the Rockies game tonight.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? LIVIN’ THING by Electric Light Orchestra

Hey, nothing like ending a week on a controversial note. Really, I shouldn’t open this can of worms but heck, it’s a beautiful fall day. Why not throw a monkey wrench into it.

So in a spare five minutes I had waiting for something to download, I popped open my latest issue of PW and there was an interesting article on the lack of men in publishing and whether that impacts what gets published.

Jason Pinter did an editorial at the HuffPo saying it does.

Stuart Applebaum at Random House says it’s not keeping him up a night.

For my part, I just want to sniff. Sorry. There are SO many male-dominated industries and yet I never hear much discussion about whether the lack of women in those professions significantly impacts those industries so yeah, I’m inclined to just snort.

(Interesting side note, Alloy Entertainment, the folks behind all the Girl commercial teen products like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Gossip Girls etc. is run by 2 guys and no one seems to think twice about it….)

Then I wondered if I was being automatically dismissive and there is something to an industry being impacted by a gender leaning in one direction.

I imagine some of you might have decided opinions on this topic so air away.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Kristin Goes Webinar

STATUS: It’s really time to go home now…

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? IS SHE REALLY GOING OUT WITH HIM? by Joe Jackson

Should be interesting.

Sometimes I wonder how I get roped into these things! Chuck Sambuchino from Writers Digest has been bugging me for a while to come and teach a webinar for them.

I haven’t really been tempted until now. What changes is that I feel an overwhelming need to help out writers in the SF&F field. I know I’ve mentioned this before on my blog but the SF&F community has wonderful Cons that cater to fans more than to the business side of publishing. In consequence, often the writers in the SF&F realm are a little at loose ends on how to do things like write good query letter pitch blurbs for their SF&F novels. Seriously, the queries we get for this genre tend to be the weakest we see.

This is a problem we NEVER have in the romance field as RWA probably goes the other extreme in terms of educating writers!

Next month is MileCon here in Denver and sure enough, we proposed some business-y stuff and not much came of it.

So then Chuck touched base and I thought, here’s an opportunity…. Taught by yours truly.

And folks, unlike my blog, this webinar is not free—as it’s through Writers Digest but if you are interested, here are the deets. Click here for more info and to sign up.

How to Write and Sell Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

This is an intensive workshop on the “how-to” business side of getting your science fiction and fantasy (SF&F) writing published, whether for teens or adults.

We here at Nelson Literary Agency are actively looking to expand our roster of science fiction & fantasy (young adult and adult fiction) authors but frankly, the queries we receive in this genre could use some help. Our agency sees a ton of SF&F queries, for both YA and adult novels, and 90% of them sound completely generic. We can teach you how to make your novel stand out.

Each registration comes with access to the archived version of the program and the materials for 1 year.

About the Critique & How it works
After the session, all registrants can submit their revised pitch paragraph (no more than 12 sentences) for a quick critique by Kristin Nelson. Who knows, you might even get a request for sample pages out of it.

What you’ll learn:

• How to compose your query: The top 10 reasons why most SF&F query letters fail
• How NOT to start your story: The top 10 things that shouldn’t open an SF&F novel
• What agents and editors want: What agents and editors look for in terms of pitch, writing, and book premise
• How to pitch: How to nail the story’s hook, and nail the elements of your world-building in the short pitch paragraph

Who should attend?

• SF&F fans who are interested in writing a novel.
• SF&F Writers who want to improve their pitches and hooks
• SF&F Writers who are actively querying agents and publishers with their science fiction or fantasy novel.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Konrath Stats Outside of Traditional Publishing

STATUS: It’s really time to go home now…

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? HOWLING AT THE MOON by Ramones

JA Konrath updated his blog today giving some new stats on how he’s doing selling outside of traditional publishing and selling ebooks on his own. He’s hit the 100k mark. A great number in any format.

He notes that agents won’t mention it on our blogs but heck, I don’t mind. I’m not remotely threatened by authors pursuing this. He’s also a fellow backspacer and I love that he’s sharing this journey publically so if you have interest, you might want to give it a look. (My original mention of it here.)

In light of his recent entry, I’d like to make one comment. I wish I could disclose figures but that is client confidential so I can only share general info.

For my top sellers in print, their ebook sales currently don’t equal 1% of their print sales (and yes, they are available in all formats across many e-distribution platforms). It’s changing rapidly mind you but right now, the disparity is still pretty large in the ratio of print sales to ebook sales.
I know that will change drastically in the next year or two.

Konrath mentions quite a few new authors are having success following an untraditional model as well. You might want to check out his list and find out what those folks are doing.

Because that’s the real question. As e-publishing allows a greater array of writers to have work out there, how will readers decide what to buy? What is creating notice for new writers outside of traditional publishing?

I imagine if you are interested in this, you might have the same question!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

If You Think A Publisher Will Be Filing…

STATUS: First day of fall. Makes me kind of sad. I want summer to stay awhile longer.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WONDER by Natalie Merchant

…for bankruptcy, what is the best thing an author can do?

My answer? Get your rights reverted before the filing so the books aren’t tied up indefinitely by the court as non-reverted titles will be deemed assets of the company.

By the way, this is true even if you have a bankruptcy clause in your contract specifying that rights automatically revert. Bankruptcy courts don’t perceive it that way and they trump contract clause.

I also suggest you get a full accounting, if you can, of what is owed to you. You want this for several reasons: 1) if you have to file a claim as a creditor in the bankruptcy, you’ll know for how much. 2) you might be able to take the amount loss as a tax deduction (but ask a tax expert first).

Monday, September 20, 2010

White Noise

STATUS: Last week was just tough. Battling being sick so just didn’t know when I’d be in the office or not. So not pleasant….

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE by Mat Kearney

When I was at the Rocky Mountain Writers Conference, I gave a couple of workshops. In my classes, I always give the daunting statistics on how many queries we get, how many sample pages we read, and how many authors we actually take on from what we read.

Yep, the icky stuff.

Then I tell them to cover their ears and say, “la, la, la I’m not listening” because what it boils down to is that these stats should be white noise to you aspiring writers. You can hear it, but it’s in the background. Know the stats so you have a keen understanding of the reality behind the business of publishing but then don’t let it stop you. .

If you love writing, if you are passionate about it as your dream, then you are going to write no matter what. Publication is one possible end result but whether that happens are not should not be the only determiner of why you write. You write because you have to. It’s like breathing. Absolutely necessary.

Besides, you never know when toughness and persistence will finally pay off so don’t lose sight of that!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Killer Openings

STATUS: Off to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference at noon today.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? LAID by James

And I actually don’t mean it in the sense that it’s so good, I couldn’t put the manuscript down. I mean the openings that are guaranteed to kill your manuscript within the first 10 pages for an agent reading it.

And trust me, we won’t keep reading to get to the “good part.” The opening is everything when you are trying to get an agent’s attention.

A terrible and disheartening statistic is that for 90% of the submissions we receive, we won’t read beyond 2 pages. (I know. Ouch.) We know that quickly whether a) a manuscript is ready for an agent’s attention or b) if it’s right for us. Anything well-written, we’ll read all 30 pages of the submission before deciding to request a full or not.

But back to Killer Openings:

1. Opening pages that are nothing but backstory and explaining.

2. Opening pages with scenes that only do one thing (like have action but no character development or any other components that are essential to strong writing).

3. Problems with sentence structure, misuse or overuse of description, and basic grammar snafus.

4. Prologues (or chapter one) that sets up a faux conflict to “hook” the reader but then has very little connection to the following chapter—in tone, in the characters that are then introduced, in plot that unfolds immediately in the next chapter.

I see number 4 over and over again and it’s always a neon sign beginning writer mistake. Even the tone and writing styles of these openings differ greatly from how the rest of the manuscript is written.

I’m sure there are other killer openings and when I stumble on them, I’m happy to blog about it.

More James music on iLike

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

NYT Bestseller List Has Been Very Good To Us This Year

STATUS: I’m not sure I believe all this good news but it is, indeed, all true.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THE MODERNIST by Steve Davis

Yesterday I didn’t get a chance to blog because I did a guest blog over at thelitcoach. All of my blog readers are super savvy on all this query pitch paragraph stuff but maybe some new readers might want to check out the post.

And even if you are an old pro at query letters but generally hate them, this post teaches you the shortcut on how to write a terrific pitch blurb in your query letter. Always worth repeating I think.

But now on to the amazing news of the day!

Back in April, I blogged about hitting an Agency milestone by having 3 authors all on the NYT bestseller list at the same time.

Well, guess what? It’s happened again and even more delightful, it’s the same 3 authors. How wild is that? But very cool.

So huge congrats to Jamie Ford (48 consecutive weeks on the NYT list and at #19 this week), Gail Carriger (coming in for the second time this year at #20), and Simone Elkeles (also coming in for the second time this year at #6).

Color me happy!


Friday, September 03, 2010

Friday Funnies

STATUS: I think I need this holiday!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? DON’T BRING ME DOWN by ELO

This needs no explanation. Enjoy this and the long holiday weekend. See you on Tuesday!

For a transcript of full text, click here but I recommend watching the video first.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Sometimes It Pays to Pay…

STATUS: Life in the fast lane…not. Sheesh. Where has this day gone? I’ve got three more things I absolutely must do before leaving tonight.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? AMERICAN PIE by Don McLean

For professional advice. Having been an agent for 8+ years, I’ve certainly dealt with interesting events in publishing. Bankruptcy is just one of them.

A couple of years ago, an independent sports publisher filed for bankruptcy to re-organize. One of the first books I sold in my agency’s infancy was impacted.

What I learned? Most publishing contracts have bankruptcy clauses and ALL of them are useless. If a company files for bankruptcy, even if your contract stipulates that rights revert automatically, the bankruptcy court sees it differently and the rights can be tied up—sometimes for years.

Luckily for my author, I was able to negotiate the rights back with the help of my IP attorney and another attorney specializing in bankruptcy.

Sometimes it pays to pay for a professional assistance when it comes to specialized events like the one I describe above. If you’re an author facing similar and going it alone (sans agent), don’t ask friends or google the web. Get the facts. And in a lot of cases, it’s information only an expert can provide so you might want to consider it.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

An Interesting Reason For A Pseudonym

STATUS: This week is actually rather quiet. I’m checking off lots on my To Do list. Next week, after the holiday, will be zany I’m sure.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? LOVE SOMEBODY by Schuyler Fisk

One of my new to-be-published authors recently decided that she might publish her debut novel under a pseudonym and she had an interesting reason why.

She had gone to lunch with a few of her author friends and one of them was in the job market but having trouble landing a job—even after a good interview. Prospective employers were Googling her, discovering her writing stuff, and then questioning her commitment to their job or wondering why she needed a job in the first place. These employers were erroneously assuming that all writers with a couple of books published were making a living from it.

Okay, I could hear the guffaws from here about that assumption. I imagine most authors would love to make their living solely from the writing bit and yes, it does happen but it’s not the norm for the majority of writers.

And I have to say that this reason for a pseudonym had not occurred to me but I don’t doubt this story. For my author, she’ll be in the job market again right around the time her novel publishes so this is a concern.

I imagine some of you could end up in a similar position so I thought it worthwhile to mention.